Climbing the Korea ladder

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SHOULD you be captivated by the sculpted lines of Kia’s new big saloon you ought to find the buying process pleasantly simple.

For starters, there’s just one engine on offer – a fairly modest diesel – and one body shape – a saloon, with no talk of hatch or estate on the horizon.

So you’ll just have to concentrate on colour and fittings and perhaps go for the auto over a conventional gearchange.

And that’s it, although you might not want to hang around. Kia has only modest sales targets for the Optima and might be surprised at the interest this handsome machine generates.

It’s a big car, longer even than Ford’s Mondeo and to my eyes a much more handsome design, a shape overseen by the man who spent some years drawing new Audis for a living before being tempted away to inject style into Kias from Korea.

The Optima marks the completion of part one of the project that has seen eight new cars in seven years and turned Kia from a company that sold cars because they were cheap to ones that represent good value – an important difference. Good value (think Marks & Spencer) means we’ll pay a bit more for something that looks good; making us feel better and the retailer a little bit better off.

Most Optimas will end up as company cars and aren’t going to be upstaged in the company car park in a sea of Mondeos and Insignias, especially when the Kia’s keeper starts describing what came as standard with the car.

All Optimas share the same engine but come with a choice of four grades. The entry level Optima 1 (see, I said it was simple) costs £19,595 and has the business car essentials of air con, electric windows, Bluetooth, alloys and adjustable lumbar support for the driver – along with a huge boot easily made bigger still by folding the rear seats.

Next up is the Optima 2 in Luxe or Tech guise, each costing the same £21,695. Both have dual zone air conditioning, heated front seats (with memory and electric adjustment for the driver), reversing sensors and a more easily read instrument panel.

The Luxe then adds part leather seats, sunroof, iPod cable, big 18 inch alloy wheels and a reversing camera. Opt for the Tech and you’ll find a 12 speaker sound system, smaller alloys and touch screen satellite navigation.

The Tech looks the bargain buy of the range, which is topped by the £24,495 Optima 3 which adds xenon headlights, full leather upholstery... even an automatic parking system, heated rear seats and the ability of the hard-pressed driver to cool his seat at the push of a button.

So it looks good (inside and out) and comes with lots of kit, but how does this promising newcomer drive?

Pretty well is the quick answer. The engine is vocal when cold but decently subdued once warmed through and provides enough performance to keep a busy company driver on schedule.

An automatic model was less impressive, adding vibrations through the floor and keeping the revs annoyingly high when stopped at the lights and not looking worth the £1,500 charged for dispensing with a clutch pedal.

The manual gearchange 2 Luxe on test was much more refined, with a ride that felt busy on bad roads but calmed down at a business-like cruise on the motorway.

A tall driver will find the sunroof robs too much headroom, making the Tech version the one to go for. It ditches the glass but adds sat nav. So you need never miss an appointment for lack of directions.